This interview was originally featured in Tech For Equity Updates — a biweekly newsletter about Change Machine’s platform, including upcoming trainings, and insights from our community of practice. Subscribe today!
Nancy Williams joined the Centering Black and Brown Voices cohort to enhance her organization’s mission and wealth-building strategies, but now it’s her turn to share her expertise on achieving financial goals through food security.
Nancy is the President and Chief Executive Officer of No More Empty Pots, a grassroots nonprofit that expands regional food security and economic resilience of urban and rural communities through advocacy and action. Since January 2016, Nancy has led the organization through 10,000% revenue growth, serving thousands annually.
We spoke with Nancy about the interaction between food and financial security as a means to build wealth, as well as how our Centering Cohort has supported her work.
Tell us how No More Empty Pots connects rural and urban communities to expand access to food security and economic development.
We saw that we could connect rural and urban communities having similar issues of under-investment, under-resourcing, and lower educational attainment, but with a huge upside in opportunity and growth. We started to use local foods as our galvanizing force to pull this all together, addressing the self-sufficiency of people and starting to build this community. We could see the things we have in common, but also the ways we could help leverage each other’s strengths.
One of our first partners was with a rural commission that’s in Southwest Iowa. We were able to tap into their work of growing local food systems, making it more resilient, and investing in farmers so they could elevate their work and we could prepare them to respond to market demand.
They had people ready, but needed a market. We had a market, but we didn’t have good access to food. We both had this connection to urban and rural. We could authentically connect — not, “I see the opportunity so I’m going after it” — but, “I see you as a person and I see what you bring. Together we can build this opportunity.”
How do we center Black and Brown communities in the work we do?
It’s about disparity and access to resources, but it’s also about goals, dreams, assets, strengths, and what we have to bring. When we are centering people of color, we need to hold this cultural context that it’s not just about the numbers, but the feelings too.
From my experience, I spent a good 30 years being numb and I’m just coming back into feelings and emotions. These past six years have been somewhat of a transformational experience for me. At first, I had all of these experiences that put me in this place at this time to be uniquely qualified to do this work. I realized that I couldn’t lead if I couldn’t be vulnerable and I couldn’t be vulnerable if I couldn’t feel.
When I started to feel, I started feeling change. I started sharing the story, holding space, and intentionally encouraging our staff and people we serve to also have that experience. It is when we can allow ourselves to see ourselves and be vulnerable in those spaces that we can get to the real issues.
When it comes to Black and Brown people, especially with women, we need to hold space so we can learn who we are, and get to what we really want instead of what we think other people will allow us to have. We have to do it for ourselves first — that is the only true change we can make.
How do you ensure you’re meeting the needs of the customers you serve?
When it comes to the people that we are serving and co-creating with, we are trying to make sure we are listening and having a feedback loop — and that we adjust what we’re doing based on that feedback.
We make sure we have a holistic view to get where we need to be because we’re not here for us — we’re here for them. Our work is based on what they need to realize their best lives. We are here to expose and connect resources, and elevate their ideas of what they see for themselves — not to put our ideas onto them.
How has Change Machine’s financial coaching approach impacted your work?
What Change Machine is doing is helping us change our mindset about what’s possible with what we have and how we can connect with people with what we know. We don’t need to be financial experts; we need to care first. When we care, we can use this as a tool to connect people to resources. Change Machine is really about transformational change for us as people and leaders so we can connect with people authentically and help them attain their dreams.